Assignment two: The archive

Produce a series of related images that use a readily available online archive (or archives) as their starting point.

Make a small book for this project, to be viewable online. In your book you may use a selection of images from primary sources (your own images) and/or secondary sources. Think about a theme for your book, which should contain a minimum of 12 double pages and can contain text if you wish. Provide a few double-page spreads as still images as part of your learning log.


An Australian childhood

As discussed in my learning log I decided to use my experience of living in Australia as a child and the various archives of the Child Migrant Scheme (CMS ) as my starting point for this assignment. I’m not sure what it was that sparked the idea but I remember being haunted by the story when I saw Oranges and Sunshine (Child Migrant Trust). I was appalled that such a tragedy could be allowed to happen, apparently endorsed by the governments and institutions of both the UK and Australia.

As I did my research I was also struck by the lifelong impact of the CMS and the fact that it was only as recently as 2010 that the UK government officially apologised. Last year former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave testimony to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, calling for those surviving child migrants to be compensated for the abuse they experienced.

“They were horrible. There will be other kids out there who know, from other homes, they were used as slave labour,” he said. “And there was no love, no kindness…I spent all those years out there and my life was stolen. They were all wrong, they let it go on.” Rex Wade  (Holt, 2010)

I was slightly nervous about tackling this theme as I was concerned it should not been seen as exploitative or disrespectful. I don’t know anyone directly impacted and was mindful of misrepresenting the experience. I wanted to explore the topic sensitively so rather than focus on the individual child migrant stories I was thinking about trying to convey the emotions it evoked in me. I decided my research question was along the lines of:

‘What must it have felt like as a child of five, six or seven to be taken (in some cases forcibly and in most cases through a promise of a better life) from England and arrive in this strange land with everything being so different, a cruel version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?’

Initially, I thought I would contrast my family album images with the flora and fauna of Australia. I thought perhaps this would highlight a world of playfulness and adventure with the strangeness of the environment. I bought some historic Australian flowers cigarette cards, a book on Australian flora, and collected some images from Pixabay. When I created a few pairings I felt these were too benign and started to look more like a travel guide than evoking emotions.

I wanted to stay with the flora as symbolic of difference and decided they needed to be a bit darker and more abstract so I did some experiments in Photoshop in creating a warped effect. I was really pleased with what this produced and thought this was the approach I would work with.

The left hand images are example of the base images I used and the right hand images show them after the manipulation process.

In reading through many of the testimonies, several books (Hill, 2017; Humphreys, 1996; Morpurgo, 2006) and watching the DVD again, I was very struck with how little is mentioned of the children having any possessions of their own.  This felt important in terms of identity formation and I was reminded of British Object Relations theory (Ainsworth, 1969; Fairbairn, 1949) and the notion of the transitional object (D. Winnicott, 1986; D. W. Winnicott, 1951) in particular. This theory highlights the importance of an object as part of identity development and separation from the primary care-giver; such objects ordinarily take the form of a blanket, teddy bear or soft toy.

The absence of these kinds of objects was very evident to me as I did my research into the CMS. Testimonies mention playing cards on the boat to Australia, one woman used her first wages as a domestic servant to buy a model of an English cottage to remind her of home, and Michael Morpugo’s novel focuses on a key given from a sister to her brother to remind him of her.  I decided to use these objects as a possible alternative version and pair them with my photos, which included the toys and objects we had available.

I took the work in progress to a Thames Valley Group meeting for discussion and it generated a very useful discussion. Overall, the view seemed to be a preference for the object relations approach. The abstracts were well received but in their own right rather than as a contrast to my images. There was some discussion about what I was trying to say and whether there would be a need for a lot of explanatory text. I was asked if I felt guilty for having had a positive childhood in Australia, or if it was more a sense of ‘there but for…’ Neither of these felt like what I was trying to address.

This helped me be clearer about this being a project that was exploring my own identity formation and my empathy for all those children whose childhoods were stolen from them and whose identities were profoundly impacted by their experiences. On that basis the book I decided to produce is based on the abstracts, some of which I made darker and manipulated further. I used InDesign and Blurb to create the book titled, ‘An Australian Childhood.’  Initially, I tried offset and inconsistent layouts to stress the sense of disruption and distortion. I appreciate this may not be entirely successful from a viewer’s perspective but wanted to try the approach. Once I had printed a dummy I decided to present the family album images in a consistent format and keep the abstracts inconsistent as this seemed a way to reinforce the contracts between the experiences of identity formation.

I have wrestled with the place of text in the project and decided that I wanted to keep it minimal in the book. In the end I went with an explanatory introduction and two short quotes at the end. The family album images are all annotated with the comments written by my Mum taken from the album.I decided not to label the abstracts as I didn’t want to add an additional interaction with text. These three spreads give a sense of the overall book.

 

The full book has been published on Blurb and can be seen here.

 

References and citations

Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1969). Object relations, dependency, and attachment: A theoretical review of the infant-mother relationship. Child development, 969-1025.

Fairbairn, W. R. D. (1949). Steps in the development of an object‐relations theory of the personality. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 22(1‐2), 26-31.

Hill, D. (2017). The Forgotten Children: Fairbridge Farm School and Its Betrayal of Britain’s Child Migrants: Atlantic Books.

Holt, A. (2010). Child migrant recalls his ‘stolen life’.   Retrieved 10th January 2018, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8533171.stm

Humphreys, M. (1996). Empty cradles: Random House.

Morpurgo, M. (2006). Alone on a Wide Wide Sea: HarperCollins UK.

Winnicott, D. (1986). 10. Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena: A Study of the First Not-Me. Essential papers on object relations, 254.

Winnicott, D. W. (1951). Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena. In D. Winnicott (Ed.), Collected Papers: Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis (pp. 229 – 242). London: Tavistock.

 

Working towards assignment two

I have been doing a lot of reading and research for Assignment two and it felt like I needed to balance that out with some image making and started sketching some different ideas about what form the assignment might take. I have decided that it will consist of a series of diptychs with a family album image on one side and an image on the other side that links to the stories of the Australian child migrants.

One pairing I thought of was my family images alongside the Australian flora and fauna that must have seemed so alien to children already confused and frightened about what was happening to them. I remember how different the environment seemed in new South Wales and in Queensland from the depths of Surrey. I can only imagine what these children thought. Initially I thought they would be straight photographs but I decided there was a danger that it might look like a travel brochure.

Like assignment one I spent some time thinking about what it was that was drawing me into this project, why did it feel important to try and address? I decided that what I was trying to uncover was – ‘what must it have felt like as a child of five, six or seven to have arrived in this strange land with everything being so different, a cruel version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?’ For me it was a kind of Wonderland but I had my family with me and we knew at some point we would be going back to England as a group.

This led me to thinking about more abstract images that might evoke emotions. So having collected some found images of Australian flora I experimented with filters and the warp tool. What started to emerge were images that had softness but also some sharp edges. They were no longer recognisable as the original images, perhaps symbolic of the dislocation caused, I also felt they were starting to work better in exploring feelings of loss, pain, confusion and abandonment.

I am not sure if they will work alongside the family album images but will test that out when I pull everything together for the assignment. If nothing else I have found a technique that I think I will keep developing. They have had a very positive response from people I have shared them with.

 

I couldn’t decide whether to name them or not so for now they are just called Lost, I may revert to giving them only numbers to reflect the loss of identity of the children.